The Never-Ending Sexism in Punjabi Songs

For a long time, the lyrics have revolved around women seeking car rides and baubles from their Gucci-clad men.

“Mainu kadey ta lai jeya kar tu shopping mall ve
Mere nal diyan sab parlour saj diyan rehndiyan
Haaye highlight karaa de mere kaale waal ve
Ve kitho sajaa tere layi sare suit puraane aa
Mainu lehanga le de mehanga jehya marjaneya
Aine paise dass tu kithe laike jaane ae”

In the above lyrics from the song ‘Lehanga’ by Jass Manak, the girl is asking her boyfriend/husband to take her shopping, get her hair highlighted and gift her an expensive lehenga. The song was released in 2019 and is known in every household, especially in North India.

An international location, a rich boy, expensive cars and a sprawling mansion are the perfect ingredients for a Punjabi song. That and a little portion of sexism. Not to forget brands like Gucci and Prada (listen to ‘Prada’ by Jass Manak).

The songs are a hit during weddings or any odd day. However, they have been questionable for a few years now.

During my stay in Chandigarh, I remember hearing Jass Manak, Karan Aujla and B Praak at every street corner. Someone either had ‘Coka’ by Sukhe and Muzical Doctorz as their ringtone or ‘Lamberghini’ by The Doorbeen and Ragini at the top of their playlist.

I first heard the songs outside my all-girls college in Chandigarh in 2017 when I saw a row of cars with boys inside ambling along slowly – popularly known here as gedi, meaning a ‘leisurely stroll’ – with the songs playing at full volume. To my surprise, this was just a regular day for the boys, who, like clockwork, would turn up at noon every day – since that was when the girls could go out according to college rules.

I had started to enjoy these songs, until one day my friends explained the meaning of the lyrics.

Why are women portrayed as materialistic? Who would ask for a ride like, “Lamberghini chalayi jaane o/Saanu vi chutta deh do Kithe kalle-kalle jaayi jaane o (Why are you driving alone in a Lamborghini, take me with you).”

Why these lyrics?

The songs are much more than music. They’re a catalyst for patriarchy and sexism in our daily lives. According to a report in The Economist in 2018, the Punjabi music industry stood at Rs 700 crore and is rapidly growing.

Language and socialisation follow a chain, wherein language influences the way people think and vice-versa. According to the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis,

“Human beings do not live in the objective world alone, nor alone in the world of social activity as ordinarily understood, but are very much at the mercy of the particular language which has become the medium of expression for their society. The fact of the matter is that the ‘real world’ is to a large extent unconsciously built upon the language habits of the group.”

The use of words in the lyrics showcases a view that is suitable for men. At the core of these songs are women who are characterised as betrayers, financially dependent and weak.

In ‘Lahu Di Awaaz’ by Simiran Kaur Dhadli, which was released in September 2021 and has 14 lakh views on YouTube, the girl narrates how “today’s girls are mentally ill” as they take off their clothes to become “famous”. In the lyrics of another song ‘Chaal’ by Lovie Virk and Gurlez Akhtar, the girl sings, “Jinna di chaal janniyan vargi raah sadda ki mallange, ni tor janniyan vargi raah sadda ki mallange (one who walks like a girl, what will they do about us)”.

I put up an Instagram story where I asked a few questions regarding sexism in Punjabi songs: Have you ever tried to discuss this with your friends/family? Do you think not listening to those songs would help in any way? Do you continue listening to the songs even if you know they are sexist?

Out of 77 people who responded, 71 found Punjabi songs sexist. Many believe that not listening to these songs would affect their demand, which would help to counter their popularisation. Some also believed that this would have no impact.

The lens with which we view Punjabi songs has changed over the years. It is probably not the first time you are coming across an article like this. The question is: will it be the last time?

Anoushka Sawhney is a student journalist at the Asian College of Journalism, Chennai.

Featured Image: Youtube